MARYLAND (WDVM) — Human trafficking — or as the Department of Homeland Security calls it, modern day slavery — can happen anywhere and to anyone, regardless of nationality, age or gender.
There are two categories that most human trafficking cases fall under: Labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
“Labor trafficking is basically exploiting someone for the purpose of labor and services… And then sex trafficking is basically the same thing but for sexual servitude as well, so the service they are providing would be sexual in nature,” said Katie Spriggs.
Spriggs is the executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center, an organization that provides help and resources to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She says most individuals rarely know that they are a victim of human trafficking.
“Usually when they come forward, they present as a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, and then the more they talk about what’s happening to them, we recognize the signs of human trafficking and we’re usually the ones to tell them that what’s been happening to them is human trafficking,” said Spriggs.
Spriggs says that signs of human trafficking tend to differ for each individual, but common indicators can include signs of physical abuse, working excessively long or unusual hours.
According to Hagerstown Police Department (HPD) Sergeant Andrew Lewis, the basis for most human trafficking cases is exploitation.
“A lot of what we see here is juveniles or even adults that are being exploited by somebody they know,” said Lewis. “Whether it be a family member, a parent, a friend, a boyfriend or just somebody they met on the street.”
From there, Lewis says victims will have their needs and wants taken advantage of, such as an escape from an abusive person or an addiction to drugs.
“The trafficker would recognize the need in that person then exploit that need to get what they want, so they can say something like, ‘I’m not going to provide you with any more of substance until you do this,’ so then, because they are actively addicted, they do it to get the substance even though they didn’t necessarily consent,” said Spriggs.
HPD Chief Paul Kifer says that many people end up in human trafficking circles because of trauma.
“There might be something else going on at home, and if we can help with that and address that,” said Kifer, “then they hopefully don’t go down a path of getting into the human trafficking arena because they’re out on the street trying to survive, trying to do those things that leads them into drugs, addiction or human trafficking.”
Chief Kifer and Spriggs agree that awareness in the community will help deter cases of human trafficking.
“The biggest thing in society is people don’t want to accuse someone if they don’t know for sure,” said Kifer, “and in situations like human trafficking, if you want to know for sure, then it is already too late.”